Friday, June 1, 2007

Readers react

The Republican National Committee, hit by a grass-roots donors’ rebellion over President Bush’s immigration policy, has fired all 65 of its telephone solicitors, The Washington Times has learned.

Faced with an estimated 40 percent falloff in small-donor contributions and aging phone-bank equipment that the RNC said would cost too much to update, Anne Hathaway, the committee’s chief of staff, summoned the solicitations staff and told them they were out of work, effective immediately, fired staff members told The Times.

Several of the solicitors fired at the May 24 meeting reported declining contributions and a donor backlash against the immigration proposals now being pushed by Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans.

“Every donor in 50 states we reached has been angry, especially in the last month and a half, and for 99 percent of them immigration is the No. 1 issue,” said a fired phone bank employee who said the severance pay the RNC agreed to pay him was contingent on his not criticizing the national committee.

A spokeswoman for the committee denied any drop-off in fundraising.

“Any assertion that overall donations have gone down is patently false,” RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt wrote by e-mail yesterday in response to questions sent by The Times. “We continue to out-raise our Democrat counterpart by a substantive amount (nearly double).”

Miss Schmitt said terminating the phone solicitation staff “was not an easy decision. The first and primary motivating factor was the state of the phone bank technology, which was outdated and difficult to maintain. The RNC was advised that we would soon need an entire new system to remain viable.”

She also said that “the changing ways in which people choose to contribute” meant that the RNC’s in-house phone bank “was simply no longer cost effective, although unfortunate.”

The fired staffers said the equipment was aging and it was probably more cost effective to farm out the phone-bank operations to the eight or more private firms also handling similar solicitations for donations to the RNC. But the ex-employees said the sharp drop-off in donations “probably” hastened the end of the in-house operation.

“Last year, my solicitations totaled $164,000, and this year the way they were running for the first four months, they would total $100,000 by the end of 2007,” said another fired phone-bank employee who asked not to be identified.

Previous Republican donors have given RNC solicitors an earful about the proposed immigration measure.

“We have not heard anyone in our donor calls who supported the president on immigration,” said a fired phone solicitor, who described himself as a Republican activist.

“We write these comments up from each call, and give them to a supervisor who passes them on to the finance director or the national chairman,” he said. “But when I talked with the White House, the people there told me they got nothing but positive comments on the president’s immigration stand.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) both report having trouble raising money from the small donors who are the backbone of all the fundraising committees for both major parties.

The RNC has been more successful than the two Republican congressional committees because the RNC has completed its major annual donor gala, gathering money from corporate and business donors who either care little about the immigration issue or side with Mr. Bush in support of the Senate bill that would allow almost all the estimated 12 million to 20 million or more illegal aliens in the United States to gain legal status.

Yet there has been a definite downward trend in Republican fundraising, said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in elections.

“The GOP’s overall haul from its three national fundraising committees [the RNC, NRSC and NRCC] is down 25 percent from the equivalent period in 2005,” Mr. Ritsch said. “The Republicans still have more money than the Democrats but fundraising is down for Republicans and up for Democrats. That has to be a cause of concern for Republicans.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee collected $4.6 million in April, more than double the NRSC’s $2.1 million in April contributions. What’s more, the Republican group spent about $60,000 more than it had received in donations, while using only $260,000 to pay its debt.

Overall, the NRSC’s total receipts of $9.1 million trails its Democratic counterpart’s total of $18.3 million since January.

The Republican Senate committee’s total is less than one-twelfth of the $118 million goal that its chairman, Nevada Sen. John Ensign, had set for the committee.

One of the fired RNC staffers estimated that two-thirds of the phone-bank solicitors employed by the committee were black, with a smattering of Hispanics and Asians. Miss Schmitt said that in order “to smooth their transition, all employees will remain on the payroll for 60 days.”

One of the fired staffers quoted a letter from Miss Hathaway saying that maintaining the RNC’s current phone system “is cost prohibitive and given changes in the fundraising environment, the difficult decision has been made to end phone-bank operations at RNC headquarters.”

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